Our mental health impacts our physical health and overall well-being. Someone struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, an eating disorder or addiction can find it difficult to maintain focus, find motivation for tasks and relate to peers and colleagues. The effects of mental health on our mood and ability to function throughout the day can impact all aspects of our lives. Good mental health is just as important for teachers and students as it is for the rest of the population.
The importance of mental health for students
Mental illness affects many students today. Pressures from home, their studies, and financial responsibilities can cause students to feel overwhelmed and become so anxious, education becomes a struggle. According to research, one in four students have a diagnosable mental illness, yet 40% don’t seek help.
Our mental health has a direct impact on our ability to take in new information, understand new concepts and master new skills. When struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, working on assignments and attending classes can become impossible. According to the Association for University and College Counseling Centre Directors (AUCCCD), depression is the number one reason students drop out of school.
While a certain level of anxiety and stress can be helpful in prompting students to study for exams or complete assignments on time, consistently high levels of anxiety and anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder, can be debilitating. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the US and affect around 2.6 million children and adolescents.
The importance of mental health in teachers
Teaching is one of the most stressful professions. An educator work-life survey of FTE teachers across the US found 1.86 million described their mental health as ‘not good’. 61% reported they are always, or often managing high levels of stress over a 30 day period. Given the pressures teachers are required to work under – economic inequality, increasing mental health issues for students, declining resources and increasing demands of their job – it’s not surprising many teachers struggle with their own mental health along with that of their students.
The poor mental health of teachers isn’t only a personal concern for them, it adversely affects their student’s levels of achievement and increases costs for schools. Given the important role that teachers play in the lives of children, young adults, and wider society, it’s imperative that their mental health is supported to prevent issues and help is provided when problems do arise.
How to improve mental health in schools
Improving mental health in schools has a number of benefits – a higher rate of teacher retention, increasing levels of achievement for students and lower dropout rates for students to name a few. Focusing on the need for improving mental health in schools is just the start. Looking after our mental health can begin at school (or at home) but should be a part of all aspects of our lives.
Teaching stress reduction techniques, removing the stigma around mental health with open discussions on these topics, prioritizing wellness by ensuring we get enough sleep, adopting a growth mindset towards learning and teaching, focusing on gratitude and having clear boundaries between school and the rest of our lives can all help to improve mental health in our schools for students and teachers alike.